Monday, February 28, 2011

Community 1

Community. What a loaded word in church conversation. It has been for a while. However it has taken on a whole new slant in the Missional church conversation. As we struggle with what it means to grow disciples versus just church attendees, community crops up with predictable regularity. In Missional communities we are trying to move from consumers of church goods and services to being outposts of the Kingdom of God where we live, work, play and worship.

It has me pondering. Are we asking “community” to bear a weight it was never intended to bear? It seems to have become the panacea to all our ills. A spiritual band-aid that is quickly applied in hopes of it healing the buried wound. I am having my doubts.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am all about intimate relationships, community, and accountability. I treasure my friendships and take them seriously. I pursue and I respond and I value what happens in spiritual friendship. So, hear these musings, as simply musings, from one who is feeling the push and pull tension of community.

Over the last 25 years, churches have been enamored with small groups of differing stripes. We have embraced the Family Life Group, the Accountability Group, Triads, Men’s Groups, Women’s Groups, Fellowship Groups, Prayer Groups, Study Groups, and Recovery Groups. And the list goes on. Yet still, we are struggling with solutions to isolation, individualism, sin, luke-warmness and we keep going back to Community as our solution. All of our groups are somehow still not meeting the need we see. It is almost like the solution we have come up with, while a good solution is for a question or a struggle we are not asking or facing. An authentic struggle and authentic answers, just not to the same question.

I have heard more than my fair share of ministry staff church chatter that poses the question: “why are we still not hearing about people’s crisis until it is too late. Why is divorce the next step when we first hear about the marriage struggle?” “Why is a return to addiction the behavior we hear about when we never knew there was a struggle to start with.” “How do we create community so that our members will become confessional?” You get the idea. We are still desperately looking for a way to form community to do what we think it needs to do. 25 years into intentional church structuring to provide it and we are still struggling. Big time.

It’s not due to a lack of resources. Go to any bookstore, peruse the internet, and look at church conferences. There are theologies, strategies, concepts and formulations to create community in every form you could desire. I’ve read more books on groups than I can even count.

When Willow Creeks study, Reveal, first hit the blogosphere and media, many church leaders were gob smacked. If Willow were struggling to form fully formed disciples of Christ, what possible chance did the average small church have. If Willow was struggling to create authentic community in an environment where church was being “done” via groups, how could anyone succeed at this?

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